Western Reserve participated in the first annual Eric Snow Classic on Sunday, falling to New Middletown Springfield, 70-60, at the historic Canton Memorial Fieldhouse near McKinley High School.
The event was hosted by the legendary McKinley Bulldogs program — which has the most all-time wins in Ohio High School basketball history along with 11 state championship game appearances and two state titles.
"You look at the names that have played on this floor — from LeBron James to C.J. McCullom to Kyle Young at Ohio State now, and someone like a Kosta Koufos," Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. "Those are the guys that my guys actually know. (McKinley) is the winningest program in Ohio and this gymnasium has hosted some of the most iconic games. The opportunity to do that — to play on a big floor and area-type environment was something."
Playing in a showcase event on a Sunday was an unique experience for Western Reserve. Also facing the team that defeated fellow Firelands Conference member South Central in last year's regional semifinals on the same floor was a challenge.
"We knew the opponent we were going to play was pretty darn good, too," Sheldon said. "The combination of doing those two things is what I really liked and I was happy to be able do that. You want to be able to give your kids different experiences in all phases of your schedule. This one presented something that was unique for us, and for me personally — because I do know the history of this program, this building and what has gone on here."
Luke Rowlinson led the 'Riders with 25 points. As a team, Western (12-3) only hit on 9 of 34 3-pointers, but there were no excuses to be made.
"It was pretty cool playing in a small arena where all the big names have been here," Rowlinson said. "It was a pretty cool place to play. I didn’t shoot it great. It’s the same shot as any gym you play in."
Sheldon said the time of the day that the game took place was more interesting to adjust to than the day of the week.
"We have never played on a Sunday," the 18th-year coach said. "The only thing that was different about today is I have never played a 2:45 game. We definitely made some adjustments, or at least we tried to. Hopefully someday I get to play at 2:45 — but in Columbus."
The 'Riders had just a road league game at Crestvliew last week, and are off again until a big home game against St. Paul (12-3, 10-0) on Friday.
"The thing was it fit into our schedule well," Sheldon said. "We knew we only had a single game this weekend, and so it just worked out. We knew we only had a single game the following weekend. When the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer for us to do it, even though it was a Sunday matinee. A Sunday matinee in one of the most iconic gymnasiums in Ohio high school basketball history is a neat opportunity that I just did not want to pass up."
Sheldon echoed Rowlinson's sentiments about going from the tiny confines of Western Reserve's gym to the larger building at Canton.
"As (the movie) Hoosiers would tell you, the rim is still going be 10 feet tall and the free-throw line is still going to be 15 feet out," Sheldon said. "Shooters shoot. We go to Eastern Ohio (sports complex in Southeast Ohio) where rims are all outdoors and there's no background surrounding. We've shot it pretty well down there through the years."
The 'Riders (12-3, 8-2) will quickly have to shake the loss from their memory, as an experienced Flyers team — ranked No. 5 in the Division IV Associated Press state poll — comes to Collins alone in first place in the Firelands Conference.
St. Paul won the first meeting, 65-59, in Norwalk on Dec. 19. Western Reserve almost certainly has to win in order to keep hopes of a third consecutive FC title alive.
"Our kids know what is on the line and what we have to do," Sheldon said. "One thing I know about my kids is they love to compete. I am sure they will be looking forward to the opportunity to maintain themselves in a league race.
“They know they have to win,” he added. “St. Paul has taken care of business to this point, and kudos to them. We will definitely relish the opportunity to go stay in this league title race."